Happy Trails to You

Through many years of running, I’ve spent my fair share of miles pounding the pavement. And when training for a road race, it’s necessary to acclimatize your joints and connective tissues to running on harder surfaces.

sweetwater creek state park

Taking a stroll through Sweetwater Creek State Park.

But as my internal odometer ticks off more mileage each year, I know I need to focus on taking care of my body. Cross-training is one way I do that, but my favorite way to take it easy on my knees and hips is trail-running.

Smooth, peaceful, lush single-track for miles… it’s a tiny piece of heaven on earth!

Although the technical terrain and pervasive hills of backwoods trails may seem like it is tougher on your body, trail-running is much gentler than running on asphalt and concrete. The trail is softer and absorbs more of the impact of your footstrike.

Don’t get me wrong – off-road mileage is a tough workout. It uses different muscles and connective tissues than road running because your body undergoes more lateral (side-to-side) movement. All that stump jumping, rock avoiding and stream leaping strengthens stabilizing muscles and tissues, yet allows your body to recover faster with the decreased pounding.

If you haven’t done much trail running, give it a shot. It’s especially great during the hot summer months with the shade of the trees keeping temps slightly cooler.

Here are some of my favorite Atlanta area trail spots:

1. Fort Yargo State Park in Winder.

2. Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield

3. Tribble Mill Park in Grayson.

4. Laurel Ridge Trail at Buford Dam.

5. Stone Mountain Park’s Cherokee and connecting trails.

6. Gainesville College Trails and Chicopee Woods in Gainesville. (The Chicopee trails are technically mountain bike trails, but if you play nice, yield to cyclists and avoid peak riding times, they’re great!)

If you don’t mind driving and are looking for a challenge, I also highly recommend running the Cumberland Trail outside of Chattanooga, and Georgia’s own Appalachian Trail which has some really great (and tough!) stretches of single-track. I’ve heard great things about the trails in the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Areas like Sope Creek, but haven’t taken the time to check those out yet. Any other trail-running fans out there? What are your favorite spots?

7 comments Add your comment


May 5th, 2010
9:02 am

Sweetwater Creek State Park remains my favorite, with Kennesaw Mountain a close second. Only started running in ‘08, and quickly got on the trails. I love them! Even did our own SweetH2O Sweetheart Half Marathon this past February 13th out at Sweetwater. Yes, the day after all that snow. Sweetwater was absolutely beautiful that day. If you haven’t checked out what we affectionately call TOTW (Top of the World), which is outside of the actual park, but accessed from the white trail, do so. It’s quite a challenge!


May 5th, 2010
9:41 am

Kirsten I must admit… TOTW definitely got the best of me the one and only time I have run at Sweetwater. At this year’s Sweeth2o 50k I had the pleasure (PAIN) of running the TOTW rollercoaster out and back… twice! It has a way of humbling an over enthusiastic trail runner, no?


May 5th, 2010
9:51 am

Oh you ran it? Then you saw my girls and I, we were at the water station that you passed 4 times going out to TOTW and coming back!


May 5th, 2010
9:53 am

Great time in the 50K, by the way! Yep, I’m one of the Rogues, looking at my first ultra this fall, and am running the PRR this year with both my girls.


May 5th, 2010
10:16 am

THANK YOU for working at the aid stations – all you volunteers were amazing and really the highlight of that race for me!

If you love trails and mileage you should definitely do an ultra this fall. I was scared at first, but now I think they are easier and more fun than road marathons. If you haven’t picked one out, I highly recommend Stump Jump put on by Rock/Creek in Chattanooga. Awesome course, fantastic people, amazing aid, great swag – so much fun!


May 5th, 2010
12:39 pm

Stump Jump is on my radar, maybe next year. Quite a few Rogues are doing it this year. I was looking at a low-key 24 Hour Ultra in NC, Hinson Lake. Then GUTS does either the Pine Mountain 40 mile, or Pumpkin Butt 50K (leaning towards Pumpkin Butt, how can I not?!?!).


May 12th, 2010
9:33 am

Whoops, I tried to post but it seems to have gotten stuck.

Anyway, Kirsten, if you ever come back here I’d love to go on a training run with you sometime, either Sweetwater (you can take me to TOTW) or Kennesaw. I’m a new runner since 2008, too, with one full road marathon behind my belt, though I’ve covered 50K once before. But I’d love to do some trails with someone with a bit of experience. If you’re interested, perhaps Lauren can give you my email (if it’s visible to her)? Just FYI: I’m a 35 year old female, and live near L5P.